Passerby #3 -- Film Review

 By the book comedy-drama redeems itself with flashes of wit and wisdom.

TOKYO -- Quadruple threat Shin Su-Won's "Passerby #3" is clearly one of those labors of love that, fortunately for Shin, works more often than not. There's not much going on here and Shin's not saying anything new -- adult boredom is hard to remedy -- but there are enough moments of true insight and gentle humor to make up for any minor grievances.

The film should work for niche festivals but, despite its common enough theme, likely won't make much of an art house dent outside Asia. Even there, potential could be limited, as "Passerby #3" relies heavily on its fantasy elements but never tips right over into all-out absurdity (like Tsai Ming-Liang's "The Hole").

Ji-Wan (Park Hyun-Young) is a middle-aged mother with a case of malaise and hardly any backbone to speak of. She abruptly quits her job to follow her dream of becoming a film director; she's been working on a script for five years. Her husband thinks she's wasting her time; her son Si-Young (Baeck So-Myung) is ashamed of her and lets her know it at every possible moment; and the producer she's supposed to be working with, Choi (Lee Mee-Yeon), keeps trying to make the film into a commercial blockbuster.                  

Undeterred, she keeps plugging away, and when things get to be too much, she lets her imagination run relatively wild (this is Korea) and we're given a glimpse of her richer inner life.

There's a youthful, "All About Lily Chou-Chou" feel to "Passerby #3" -- the onscreen typing goes a long way to that -- and in Ji-Wan, Shin has created a believable and empathetic lead through which she explores ambition, personal sacrifice and disappointment. There are times you feel compelled to smack Ji-Wan and yell at her to "wake up," but then the facts of her reality set in: she's a fortysomething woman in Korea who's trying to buck the system. No small feat.

"Passerby #3" is loaded up with all manner of stylistic flourishes, some effective, some simply gratuitous, that serve to signal Ji-Wan's flights of fancy, and though Han Tai-Yong's cinematography at times feels film school technical, the tight shots and high angles position Ji-Wan within the world and in relation to others efficiently. Shin falls down on the supporting characters that Ji-Wan dances around: Choi is more sycophantic than necessary, and Si-Young's brutal honesty often veers into nasty.

But all roads lead to Ji-Wan's mealy-mouthed tendencies finally coming to an end in the final act. She accepts an impromptu part in another director's film and in another version of make believe involving repeated takes of a slap to the face and the question "Where do you want to go?" she finally explodes and lets loose with most of what she's been feeling to that point. It's the big concluding catharsis Ji-Wan, the audience and "Passerby #3" desperately need.

Venue: Tokyo International Film Festival: Winds of Asia-Middle East
Sales: IndieStory
Production company: June Film
Producer: Kim Mi-Jung
Director: Shin Su-Won
Screenwriter: Shin Su-Won
Executive producer: Shin Su-Won
Director of Photography: Han Tai-Yong
Music: Shin Su-Won
Editor: Lee Hyun-Mee
Cast: Park Hyun-Young, Baeck So-Myung, Lee Mee-Yeon
No rating, 91 minutes